Sony Online Entertainment, developer and publisher of MMOs including EverQuest, has released a white paper revealing that it's software handled $1.87m in virtual item sales last year.

SOE’s $1.87m virtual item drive

The white paper examines the activity of EverQuest II item exchange and sale service Station Exchange from June 2005 to June 2006, and proves, according to SOE president John Smedley, that there is a proven market for the sale of virtual in-game items.

"The Station Exchange White Paper results demonstrate beyond a doubt that there is a significant demand for a secure, sanctioned online marketplace where players can enhance their gaming experience by spending real dollars," said Smedley.

"Some of our Station Exchange players are literally paying for their subscription to EQII, while others are making significant money."

Other highlights in the white paper, which can be downloaded from Gamasutra here, included the details that the biggest buyers of in-game items were 34-year-olds, whereas the biggest sellers were 22-year-olds. A single high-ranked character was sold for $2,000.

The news only underlines what many analysts and industry pundits have been saying for sometime – that the virtual item economy is booming, and is ripe for developers of online games to tap into.

So it’s how SOE and other MMO producers react to this hard data that will prove most interesting.

In his conclusion, white paper author Noah Robischon points out that virtual item sales systems can (and most likely will) be closer integrated into both gameplay and game design, the Station Exchange research having proven that new business models beyond simple subscriptions and new ways to engage players have been found:

"As SOE continues to develop new and innovative massively multiplayer online gaming experiences, the lessons learned from Station Exchange will be applied. Since the income generated from auctions is predictable, and can be controlled, it may offer new ways to monetize game play.

"It is already clear that the possibility exists of creating an MMO in which the virtual economy is a core component. This would not work for all game types. But in the cases where it does work, would provide a powerful way to keep subscribers glued to the game."

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